Gone too fast, too young: Brooklyn dad of 2-year-old boy dies at home from likely coronavirus despite family’s desperate efforts to save him
Jorge Cruz, right, died from coronavirus on Friday, April 3.
The last thing Jorge Cruz ever did was ask for a cup of hot tea. By the time it was cool enough for a sip, he was dead.
On a Monday morning just 11 days earlier, the hard-working father of a 2-year-old boy awoke with a headache and dizziness. Things deteriorated quickly, with a house call by paramedics at his Brooklyn apartment sandwiched between trips to an urgent care facility and a Brooklyn hospital. By last Friday morning, Jorge’s lifeless body was found by family members in one of the apartment’s two bedrooms, where he stayed for hours until the city morgue workers could pick him up.
Cruz’s sudden death followed a sadly familiar arc for families across the city in this time of coronavirus: A healthy man gone far too soon, a grieving and confused family left to wonder what happened, and more questions that answers about their lost loved ones. Cruz was never even officially diagnosed or treated for coronarivus, though his condition appeared obvious to all.
“It’s hard not to point a finger when you’re angry or looking for answers,” said Cruz’s sister-in-law Matzaris Del Valle. “I can’t blame the hospital or the staff for doing what they can do in this situation. But it just doesn’t seem possible that this could be happening here, in such a big city ... This is a tremendous loss that could have been avoided."
She’s not alone in those thoughts. Relatives of nearly 5,500 other families statewide are wondering the same thing as New York remains far and away the epicenter of fatal COVID-19 cases, with a one-day high of 731 deaths reported Tuesday.
The Cruz clan, which believes Jorge contracted coronavirus from another relative, hasn’t seen his body since it was taken from the apartment to the Brooklyn funeral parlor where he remains.
Cruz, a well-regarded manager at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Times Square, started feeling ill on March 23, complaining of a headache and dizziness. His condition worsened to a fever, chills, and two days later he took an Uber to a local urgent care facility where he was diagnosed with pneumonia, given antibiotics and a cough suppressant, and sent home, his family said.
The 33-year-old dad was advised to avoid waiting rooms because the pneumonia could leave him vulnerable to coronavirus, said Del Valle.
When the antibiotics ran out in seven days, Jorge’s condition became dire. He was struck with diarrhea, lost his appetite and couldn’t reach the bathroom without help. Del Valle called 911, with paramedics advising Jorge to stay inside and avoid hospital waiting rooms because his pneumonia made him vulnerable to COVID-19.
He did what they asked, but things only turned worse. Del Valle called the urgent care facility, and was told to call an ambulance to Woodhull Hospital. While he was sitting amid dozens of other waiting room patients, one of them died, she recalled.
Cruz was sent home with antibiotics and an anti-malaria drug. Neither the doctors nor the family were happy when all was said and done.
“They were frustrated,” said Del Valle. “And we were frustrated.”
Cruz became more lethargic last Thursday, only sleeping and using the bathroom. A Friday morning call to a hospital emergency room came with advice to keep Cruz hydrated and try to get him to eat. Del Valle made him some scrambled eggs, and Cruz asked for the cup of tea.
He was gone in the blink of an eye. The medical examiner’s office listed the cause of death as “recent influenza-like illness (Possible COVID 19).”
His devastated fiancee posted a Facebook tribute to her love since the two met as teens.
“I know I’ll never be the same," wrote Beatriz Nunez. "But I’ll never forget you. I’ll never stop appreciating you. I’ll never stop loving you. I hope you come to me in a dream or just make me feel you. I know you have to be ok and in a better place because you deserve nothing less. I love you forever babe!”
Mayor de Blasio acknowledged Tuesday that he assumes most New Yorkers who died at home during the pandemic without any testing were likely infected.
“It’s understandable in a crisis that being able to make the confirmation is harder to do with all the resources stretched so thin," he said.
If things seemed to happen rapidly once Jorge fell ill, time seemed to stand still once he passed. Family members waited and waited and waited with the corpse for the medical examiner to arrive at their home, according to his sister-in-law. The dead man’s father turned on an air conditioner to keep his son’s body cold.
“Six hours and 47 minutes,” said Del Valle. “The family was traumatized. His son (Logan) kept wanting to go in and play with dad. He couldn’t understand that daddy wasn’t sleeping.”
And then everything started speeding up again for the Cruz clan. Shortly after Jorge’s death, his mother began to show coronavirus symptoms. She was checked out at a local hospital, never tested for the virus and sent home. She’s now recovering there, lying in the same bed where he son died a few days ago.
And on Tuesday, the family received another jolt: Little Logan and his mother were both diagnosed as positive for coronavirus.
“I can’t believe this,” said Del Valle. “This explains the fever. Such an adorable little boy.”